This time of year is filled with festive gatherings, parties and celebrations—many of which center around food and drink. While that can be wonderful, it can also present challenges for those who attempt to eat healthy during the holidays. The good news is that planning ahead and being educated about what choices to make can alleviate potential issues.
In this post we’ll share common challenges and triggers associated with holiday eating, offer healthy holiday eating tips and provide information for those who may want nutritional help from a professional this season.
Why Eating Healthy is a Challenge Around the Holidays
There are several reasons why healthy eating can be difficult in the midst of holiday celebrations. Here are the most common:
- Travel. Many of us have to go the distance to visit with relatives and friends for the holidays. Travel can disrupt our normal routines and pause established patterns of eating in our normal lives. Furthermore, if we’re traveling by car, we’re more likely to be susceptible to quick meals in fast food and casual restaurants where menu options are often higher in calories and less nutritious. Similarly, in airports and on airplanes there are limited choices available when it comes to meals.
- Social gatherings. While holiday parties can be a great way to connect with family, friends and colleagues, unless you’re the one hosting the party, you’re likely to have little control over what is on the menu. In addition, many see the holidays as a time to splurge with more rich, indulgent meals and desserts.
- Stress. Unfortunately, the holidays can be incredibly stressful for some, which can lead to “stress-eating” and snacking outside of normal meal times.
Tips for Healthy Eating Around the Holidays
Thought it may seem overwhelming, there are a variety of easy ways to combat the problem of unhealthy eating during the holidays. Here are a few:
- Shift your focus. Though many celebrations are undeniably centered around food, remember how important it is to spend quality time with loved one Instead of focusing on the menu, try to make a point of focusing on the people and the experience you’re there to share. When you make it less about the food you’re less likely to overindulge.
- Pack your own food. If traveling, pack healthy snacks such as nuts and dried fruits; if heading to a celebration that you know won’t have healthy options available, take a piece of fruit to add to your plate or fill up before you leave so you won’t be tempted to eat unhealthy offerings.
- Host with options. If you have the pleasure of hosting a holiday gathering, be sure to provide healthy options for yourself and your guests. If creating a platter of snacks, don’t forget to include plenty of fruits and vegetables, and always have non-alcoholic options (and plenty of water) available to drink. If cooking and baking, look for creative ways to use healthy ingredients as substitutes without sacrificing flavor.
- Think of your food allowance as a budget. If you’re not the one hosting and are at the mercy of whomever is serving you, think of your calories as nutritional ‘Budget’ a normal number of calories to eat during the event and if you want to indulge in a special dish or fancy dessert, make sure to allow for it by cutting out something else.
- Loop the buffet. For gatherings that are serve-yourself, make sure you see all that’s available before you enter the line. That way, you can construct your meal with only what you absolutely want and not end up with extras you may feel obligated to consume.
- Limit alcohol. Beer, wine and spirits can be a festive addition to holiday celebrations, but they often come with a lot of calories and sugar. If you plan to drink alcohol, just be sure to limit your amount, and drink water for hydration as well.
- Eat and drink mindfully. Don’t allow yourself to snack through a stressful situation and when eating for pleasure, savor every bite and sip. When you’re consciously thinking about the tastes and textures of what you’re experiencing, you’ll enjoy it more, and chances are you won’t overeat.
- Take a second (or two) before you take seconds. Even when we’re making good food choices, the portions at holiday gatherings can encourage overeating. If you’re enjoying the food, just give yourself ample time once you finish your first plate to digest before you go back for another helping. You may just realize you’re already full.
See a Medical Professional
Western Washington Medical Group can help with meal planning, nutritional advice and more to encourage healthy holiday eating. For additional information or to schedule an appointment, visit our Family Practice or Diabetes & Nutrition Education Center.